The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

What are some points which Leopold makes in his preface? What does he mean by his comment, “That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten”?

What are some implications of the word “Almanac” in the title? Of the choice of Sand County?

How is the “Almanac” structured?  What are some implications of arranging an account by the months and seasons?

What substitutes for plot in holding the reader’s interest?

What are some features of Leopold’s style? What are some of its more subtle or indirect qualities?

How do we know how the author/narrator responds to what he describes? How does he use personification?

What are some qualities of his diction and use of paragraphs?

In what ways does he evoke curiosity? Trust in the accuracy of his account?

What points of view does Leopold emphasize? Do some of his descriptions of the emotions or intentions of animals include a bit of projection?

Which of his own emotions does Leopold describe? (e. g., imprudence; hope, 54; feeling of courage as he stands among trees)

Are there elements of humor throughout Leopold’s account?  For what kinds of observations is it used?

Which features of modernity does Leopold find troubling, limiting or misguided? Are his statements of belief blended harmoniously into his descriptions of natural phenomena?

Why do you think the author chooses the subject of trees for frequent meditation? What are they used to illustrate?

What kinds of animals interest him? Are these the sorts of animals generally thought of as impressive or exciting?

How does he relate to fish? To his dog?

How does he respond to birds? Which ones are singled out for observation and commentary?

What types of literary and/or religious references appear in the almanac, and what function do they serve? What do you make of his references to God and creation in “December: Pines above the snow”?

What views does he hold on hunting, and how are these expressed?

What are some ways in which the author’s views of conservation are shown throughout? E. g.:

Perhaps a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free. (“Forward”)

Is the man-man community lightly to be dismembered? They settled it, but they did not see, nor do we yet see, that the same question applies to the man-land community. (15)

It is fortunate, perhaps, that no matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all of the salient facts about any one of them. (33)

The drama of the sky dance is enacted nightly on hundreds of farms, the owners of which sigh for entertainment, but harbor the illusion that it is to be sought in theatres. They live on the land, but not by the land. (34)

A tractor roars warning that my neighbor is astir. The world has shrunk to those mean dimensions known to county clerks. (44)

It is apparent that the backward farmer’s eye is nearly twice as well fed as the eye of the university student or businessman. Of course neither sees his flora as yet, so we are confronted by the two alternatives already mentioned: either insure the continued blindness of the populace, or examine the question whether we cannot have both progress and plants. (47)

It is a kind providence that has withheld a sense of o history from the thousands of species of plants and animals that have exterminated each other to build the present world. The same kind providence now withholds it from us. Few grieved when the last buffalo left Wisconsin, and few will grieve when the last Silphium follows him to the lush prairies of the never-never land. (50)

But there is one vocation—philosophy—which knows that all men, by what they think about and wish for, in effect wield all tools. It knows that men thus determine, by their manner of thinking and wishing, whether it is worth while to wield any. (72)

It is the expansion of transport without a corresponding growth of perception that threatens us with qualitative bankruptcy of the recreational process. Recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind. (“Conservation Esthetic,” 176-77)


January: What does he first notice in the new year? How do several different animals view the same environment differently?

February: What do we learn from the cutting of the tree? Which types of historical events does he point out as important? How does tree-relevant history differ from conventional accounts?

March: What is distinctive about the social habits of geese?

April: What are some important effects of floods? What characterizes the objects uprooted by the waters?

What first flower of spring does he note? Have you heard of it?
What important processes are associated with the bur oak? What changes to the prairie and forests occurred with the arrival of pioneer settlers?

May: What does the author find interesting about the plover?

June: What qualities does the narrator ascribe to the fish he chases? What seem to be his motivations for fishing? Why does he return the fish to the water?

July: What events does he witness before and at the advent of dawn? What has been lost in the post-dawn world?
What different concepts of land ownership does he note? In what ways are these antagonistic?
Why should we regret the loss of the species Silphium? What was its past history, and what seem to have been its features?
What has caused its decline, and what human actions ironically delayed its extinction? What other forms of life have been similarly largely eradicated?

August: What does the narrator mean by river-painting, and what types of pictures does the season paint?

September: What does the narrator find distinctive in the quail? What is indicated by his reflection that “things hoped for have a higher value than things assured?”

October: What do we learn about the narrator’s dog from this scene? About their relationship?
What does he claim to have learned from this experience? What seems its purpose?
With what tone does the narrator describe the abandoned farm on which they hunt? The awakening of animals and birds at daybreak?

November: How does the narrator choose which tree needs to be pruned for the sake of the other? What reasons does he give for choosing say, a pine over a birch tree?
Are these good reasons?
What importance do tree diseases have in the forest ecology?

December: Why do you think the description of the pine candle is reserved for December? What are its features?
What reasons does he give for the chickadee’s survival?

Page nos. are from OUP 1949 edition.

  Copyright © 2010 Florence S Boos, The University of Iowa. All rights reserved.
  Page updated: March 23, 2012 17:51